1 minute read

Riots: Legal Aspects

The Federal Riot Act

On April 10, 1968, Congress enacted the Riot Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2101, 2102 (1999), which made it a federal crime "to use any facility of interstate commerce to incite or participate in a riot." The federal act thus focuses on the individual who crosses a state line for the purpose of creating public disorder. One of the underlying assumptions was that outside agitators play a role in causing modern urban disturbances. The act provides:

(1) Whoever travels in interstate or foreign commerce or uses any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including, but not limited to, the mail, telegraph, telephone, radio, or television, with intent—

  • (A) to incite a riot; or
  • (B) to organize, promote, encourage, participate in, or carry on a riot; or
  • (C) to commit any act of violence in furtherance of a riot; or
  • (D) to aid or abet any person in inciting or participating in or carrying on a riot or committing any act of violence in furtherance of a riot;

and who either during the course of any such travel or use or thereafter performs or attempts to perform any other overt act for any purpose specified in subparagraph (A), (B), (C), or (D) of this paragraph—

Shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than five years, or both [§ 2101].

The act treats those who attempt to commit the offense, as well as aiders and abettors, as principals. Neither presence at (or participation in) a riot nor imminent threat or harm is required. In National Mobilization Committee to End War in Vietnam v. Foran, 411 F. 2d 934 (7th Cir. 1969) and United States v. Dellinger, 472 F. 2d 340 (7th Cir. 1972), the constitutionality of the act has been upheld on the ground that the First Amendment does not protect rioting or incitement to riot.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawRiots: Legal Aspects - Introduction, Common Law, Statutory Riot Crimes, Related Statutory Offenses, The Federal Riot Act